Huge flaws in animal welfare policies in Europe have been uncovered, which campaigners say are putting millions of animals under unneccessary suffering.
A new European Parliament report shows slow progress on EU animal welfare policies and legislation has major negative effects for animals.
“Action must be taken”, says Animal Defenders International to redress the balance, with assurances given by the UK government to maintain, and improve upon, existing animal welfare measures after the country leaves the EU.
Jan Creamer, Animal Defenders International said: “The imbalance in animal welfare laws in Europe must be urgently addressed to provide protection to the millions of animals currently being failed. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is imperative existing welfare measures both remain in place and are strengthened.”
The study “Animal Welfare in the European Union”, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs and authored by Professor Donald Broom of University of Cambridge clearly states the situation needs to be urgently addressed. The report specifically recommends the development of a generic animal welfare law or species specific legislation.
The development of EU law over the past 44 years has led to 45 legislative acts relating to animal health and welfare. These legislative results culminated in the crucial acknowledgement of animals as sentient beings and the moral implications this brings as laid down in the Treaty for the European Union, a fundamental value which should underlie all EU legislation. However in the majority of EU law, animals so far are only recognised as goods, products or possessions.
Last years’ special Eurobarometer survey on “Attitudes of Europeans towards Animal Welfare” demonstrated a groundswell of support from European citizens to better protect all animal species. This mirrors the many animal welfare petitions the Petitions Committee, who requested the new report, has received over the past decade.
Despite the scientific evidence and public support, current EU legislation excludes several farmed species. Most notably, there is insufficient legislation for 340 million farmed rabbits, 170 million ducks, 150 million turkeys, 83 million sheep, 10 million goats, 88 million bovines (with the exclusion of calves kept for veal production). The second and third most farmed species, salmon and trout (1 billion and 440 million, respectively), are also not protected by any legislation.
Other animals such as equines, pets and wildlife also lack necessary legislative protection, as often only EU level actions can truly address the cross-border nature of the problems these species face. Deliberate or commercially-motivated cruelty to wild animals is not for example prevented by existing EU legislation. The use of traps for wild animals that result in severe suffering such as snares is still permitted in the EU.
Professor Broom states how animals in laboratories in the EU and worldwide have long suffered “widespread inadequate housing conditions that do not meet the needs of the animals”, particularly rodents, as attempts are made to maximise hygiene at the expense of providing other resources that animals need, like bedding and companions.
The study also recognises that most wild animals cannot adapt to a life in captivity and underlines that the trade and keeping of exotic pets can result in poor welfare and risks to biodiversity conservation. It stresses that the adoption of legislation including (positive) lists of allowed pet species could tackle these issues. The keeping and training of animals in circuses is identified as one of the priorities for new EU legislation; the UK government announced it would ban wild animal acts in 2012 but legislation has yet to be introduced.
While the report rightly emphasises how existing EU animal welfare legislation contributes substantially to improving the lives of many species, it also stresses that implementation and enforcement frequently remains problematic.